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Mandela actors hail icon, hero New film tipped for boost

LOS ANGELES, Dec 6, (Agencies): Morgan Freeman, who played Nelson Mandela in the Oscar-nominated film “Invictus” after being chosen by the icon himself as his favored actor, hailed the late South African leader Thursday as a “giant” of the 20th century. The anti-apartheid hero was also praised in Hollywood by the star of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” — a just-released movie whose fortunes could ironically be boosted by the tragic news, according to Tinseltown experts. “Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century,” said Freeman after Mandela died at the age of 95, triggering outpourings of grief and tributes around the world. “Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve — a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind,” he added.

Freeman — who has also played God and the president of the United States — was chosen by Mandela at a press conference in 1994, when the then president was asked who should play him in a big screen version of his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom.” Ironically, the actor did not end up playing in that movie. But in “Invictus,” he played Mandela in his first term as South African president, trying to unite his apartheid-torn country behind the national team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Idris Elba, praised for his title role in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” said: “What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world. “I am stunned at this very moment, in mourning with the rest of the world and Madiba’s family. We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this earth, I only feel honored to be associated with him. He is in a better place now,” he added. The timing of the movie’s release — it opened on Nov 29 in the United States — will likely boost audiences. It is due out in a string of European countries in the coming months, but that could change after Mandela’s death.

Industry expert Jeff Bock of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AFP that for the film’s distributors, news of Mandela’s death was “as timely as it gets.” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” has had mixed reviews, but there has been strong praise for Elba’s title turn, which some say could earn him an Oscar nomination. “I think Idris could secure a nomination,” said Bock, while cautioning that “this year more than ever, the competition is pretty fierce. Plus, reviews have been pretty middle-of-the-road, so it’s doubtful the film will receive more than acting accolades.” Coincidentally, the film had a red-carpet premiere in London on Thursday, attended by Britain’s Prince William, who called Mandela’s death “extremely sad and tragic” — after learning the news during the screening. Mandela’s daughter Zindzi said on her way into the cinema in London’s Leicester Square that her father was “fine” but “frail”, and that she was “hoping to see more of him.”
Freeman said Mandela’s passing should be seen not only in terms of looking at the past, but looking to the future.

“As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we’ve come, but on how far we have to go. Madiba may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us,” he said. People attending the London premiere of a new film about Nelson Mandela were told of his death Thursday night as the closing credits rolled. The news broke during the premiere. Stopping the screening of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” was discussed, but Mandela’s daughters asked that the film continue, a spokesman with the production said Thursday night. His two youngest daughters, who were at the premiere, were told of their father’s death during the screening “and immediately left the cinema,” a statement from the Nelson Mandela Foundation said.

The film’s producer, Anant Singh, announced Mandela’s death once the film was over, and he called for a moment of silence. The audience included the film’s stars and Prince William and his wife, Kate. “It was extremely sad and tragic news,” William said upon leaving. When asked on the red carpet on her way into the premiere about her father, Zindzi Mandela had said, “My father is fine. ... He’s just a typical 95-year-old who is frail.” Actor Idris Elba, who plays Mandela in the film, later said in a statement: “I am stunned at this very moment, in mourning with the rest of the world and Madiba’s family. We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this earth; I only feel honored to be associated with him.”

Many South Africans called Mandela by his clan name, Madiba, which means “reconciler,” as a token of affection and respect. The film, “Long Walk to Freedom,” has already earned $427,000 (Rand 4.4 million), according to Videovision Entertainment. The movie stars British actor Idris Elba as Mandela, the 95-year-old liberation struggle icon. It’s based on his autobiography with the same title. The British-South African co-production opened just over a week ago in South Africa, followed by a limited engagement in New York and Los Angeles. “I visited a few cinemas over the weekend and experienced the emotional response to the film with audiences leaving the cinemas completely satisfied,” said producer Anant Singh. “For me as a filmmaker, this is really fulfilling.”

The movie traces Mandela’s life from his childhood in a remote rural part of South Africa, through his years struggling against apartheid, to his 27 years imprisonment and his election as the country’s first black president in 1994. The release comes amid renewed concern about Mandela’s health. Family members told the South African Broadcasting Corporation this week that he is continuing to put up a courageous fight from his “death bed.” “He is still with us although he is not doing well in bed,” his grandson, Ndaba Mandela, told the interviewer.

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